ROBERT Weller, a petroleum and aviation fuel driver for Hahn Transportation Inc in its New Market, Maryland, terminal, frequently tells people, “I can’t imagine driving down the road and looking back in the mirrors of my tractor and seeing anything else but a tank, because that’s all I’ve ever done and something I love.”
He believes his love for the industry is one of the main reasons why he has over 3.5 million accident-free miles and was named the second-ever NTTC Professional Tank Truck Driver of the Year.
Weller, who accepted his award in Boston in April, appeared at the NTTC Safety Council Leadership Discussion and answered questions from a panel that included: Dean Kaplan, CEO of K-Limited Carrier Ltd; Ray Riley, immediate past Safety Council chairman and director of safety for Miller Transporters Inc; and Randy Vaughn, Safety Council chairman and senior vice president for Superior Bulk Logistics.
Q: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is considering regulations to allow 18-year-olds to drive trucks. Some states already allow this within their own borders. What are your feelings, from you background? At an early age, you were already driving trucks. What do we need to do?
A: I think we need to go forward. An 18-year-old can go to war for us. Let’s face it. Our military is why we are able to sit here today. They kept us free. So if an 18-year-old can pick up a gun and go to war, they can certainly drive a truck.
Q: As a professional driver with recognition, do you get acknowledgement and a higher level of respect from the shipper community you interact with daily?
A: Yes, the shippers that know about me. A lot of them have come forward and congratulated me on winning this award. A lot of terminal operators have come forward. It’s been a real nice thing.
Q: Your driver peers at Hahn? How do they view your accomplishment? Is it with admiration or envy or something else?
A: They’ve all offered congratulations to me. They’ve come and spoken to me about it, asked me what it was all about, how I got to this point in my career. They’ve been very supportive.
Q: Professional truck drivers are always blamed when there’s a crash. Many companies are taking action to protect themselves from lawsuits by installing video cameras in trucks. Some of these event recorders have two cameras—one that videos out front and one that looks back into the cab. It can be a coaching tool when you have a camera looking into the cab to try to spot bad habits—things maybe the driver can improve on. Do you have any cameras and what are your thoughts?
A: We don’t have anything like that in our trucks at Hahn. I can see where they would be very beneficial to a company to be able to record what’s going on, be able to record drivers and find bad habits a driver might have. I can see that if a driver has a problem on the road where it is recorded, and if it goes to court, that camera is going to help protect that driver. It can hurt, but it can help.
Q: In these hectic times in which we live, how do you make adjustments as it relates to weather and traffic to ensure on time and safe delivery?
A: You know that I’ve driven around the Capital Beltway for 42 years, and you have to leave the terminal at least an hour and half before you need to get around the Capital Beltway. You have to have a good attitude and a willingness to do these things to do the job. I try to maintain a good attitude. I drive defensively. And on the Capital Beltway, you have a time between 10 am and 1 pm that you don’t have a whole lot of traffic. But before 10 am and after 1 pm, you’re right back into the traffic. So you have to drive defensively and allow yourself a lot of time for bad weather, rain, snow, and so forth.
Q: How do you deal with stress and the demands required in your career as a professional driver?
A: I really don’t let stress get to me. I maintain a good, safe driving distance. It’s a job that I love. I love doing it. Obviously, I wouldn’t have done it for 42 years. I’ve learned to deal with it by maintaining a good mental attitude all the time. Now, do I like sitting in traffic? If I told you yes, you’d look at me like I had two heads. But I learned to deal with it, and it’s part of the job. The traffic’s there and there’s nothing you can do about it. So getting mad—that’s not going to solve the problem.
Q: There’s a lot of talk about electronic logs.
A: We’re still doing paper logs.
Q: From what you know about electronic logs, we really expect it’s going to be required in the coming years. How do you feel about them, judging from your experience and what you’ve heard from drivers? Can they improve safety?
A: I think it would probably be the best thing that ever happened to the trucking industry and tank industry to have electronic logs. It creates a level playing field. I’ll tell you a little story about electronic logs. A friend of mine was driving for 30 years. His company went to electronic logs. I saw him at the loading rack one day and he said, ‘I’m quitting. I’m not doing electronic logs. I’ve done paper logs all this time and I’m not doing it.’ I said, ‘Well, Gary, I know you’re not going to quit.’ I saw him about three weeks later and he said, ‘You know, the electronic log is the best thing I’ve ever done. It saves me time. I don’t have to worry about it. It logs correctly.’ Two weeks later, I saw him, and the system went down in his truck. He had to go back to paper logs. And boy, he was hot. He didn’t want to do paper. I’m all for it.
Q: In our current driver shortage driver environment, how can tank truck repair technicians, tank wash personnel, and logistics managers interact with professional drivers in such a way that would improve the performance of the entire team of the tank truck operation?
A: It takes everybody. A lot of people ask me, ‘Well, what did you do to get to where you are today?’ A lot of people were involved in this, from my family on. Well, Hahn Transportation is my second family. So the shop, the safety personnel, the little girl that comes in evenings and works part-time on paperwork—all these people are what makes the driver. It’s not just the driver. It takes everybody, from the person that washes trucks to the mechanic that’s changing the tire or putting brakes on a truck. ♦
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